Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Belated Birthday Greetings to John Calvin

I didn't get round to blogging on the official anniversary of the highly influential reformer (10th July). Calvin is a theological hero to some; for others he was a disaster for theology and a cruel leader (notably the execution of Servetus, although plenty of other executions were perpetrated by both sides of the Reformation). What should we make of him?

My friend Steve put some very witty comments online about Calvin and Calvinists, which you can read here. Calvin remains significant as many Christians today draw their theology from a tradition you can trace back to him.

When I was at University, our CU leader happily described himself as a Calvinist Baptist. His attempts to explain the compatibility between pre-destination and freewill were lively discussions, and he was very much of the theological view of communion that has been parodied by Christians of other persuasions as "chew bread and think hard".

The irony is, however, that Calvin himself believed in infant baptism. I haven't studied him much, but even I know that!

If it is right that children should be brought to Christ, why should they not be admitted to baptism, the symbol of our communion and fellowship with Christ? If the kingdom of heaven is theirs, why should they be denied the sign by which access, as it were, is opened to the Church, that being admitted into it they may be enrolled among the heirs of the heavenly kingdom? (Institutes of Religion)

Likewise his theology of communion was much more profound than that often attributed to (or articulated by) his followers.

We must confess, then, that if the representation which God gives us in the Supper is true, the internal substance of the sacrament is conjoined with the visible signs; and as the bread is distributed to us by the hand, so the body of Christ is communicated to us in order that we may be made partakers of it (John Calvin, Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper Section 17).

Maybe it's another example of where those who are "-ists" take issues further than the founder of their movement. I'm no Calvin fan, but if you can get past the reputation, there's more to learn than you might think.

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